Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Close the accountability gap in Indigenous affairs

Eloise Ambrose

19 February 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

aboriginal flag 3Total government expenditure on services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is more than $30.3 billion. But as the Prime Minister pointed out in his Closing the Gap speech last week, for all the money invested there has been little progress on improving life for disadvantaged Indigenous people.

A prime example of this waste of expenditure is ‘Connected Communities’ — a NSW education program for 15 schools with high numbers of Indigenous students in the most disadvantaged and remote areas of the state. A recent evaluation of the program found that — despite spending more than $60 million on these 15 schools — there has been little to no improvement in attendance rates, student behaviour and NAPLAN results.

The program’s failure highlights the importance of effectively engaging with Aboriginal communities, and properly researching what their needs are and the best strategies to take, before trying to deliver new programs.

Despite the best intentions, if programs are not needed or implemented properly they are a waste of time and resources. As NSW Deputy Opposition Leader and education spokeswoman Linda Burney, said in commenting on the ‘Connected Communities’ program: “It is very concerning to read in this report that some of the senior people running this program are not sure of their roles and not sure of the roles of various aspects of the Connected Communities program.”

There are many similar examples of bureaucratic incompetency. Take, for instance,

the Indigenous Home Ownership program, which was heavily criticised by the National Australian Audit Office in a recent report. In 2013-14, only 75 loans were approved — approximately one loan for every person employed to run the program, leading the National Australian Audit Office to conclude “a government run loan program is not the most efficient mechanism to support Indigenous home ownership outcomes.”

The lack of accountability that plagues the public sector needs to end. If these programs were run like a business, where people learn from their mistakes and have an imperative to succeed, we would have more results and less waste. It’s as simple as that.

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